The high-profile detention of several indigenous women leaders in Argentina this week prompted Argentina’s Women, Gender and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gomez to resign in protest on Friday, state news agency Telam reported.
The women, from the Mapuche nation, were arrested on Tuesday by Argentine security forces amid clashes over their community’s ownership of private and public land, Telam said.
“The situation is very worrying. Seven indigenous women, one of them the spiritual leader of the community, have been held for more than 48 hours,” Gomez said in an interview with local radio station AM750 on Thursday. Her portfolio includes the promotion of rights for women and indigenous minorities.
The next day, Gomez resigned.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has accepted Gomez’s resignation, presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerutti said, Telam reported.
On Tuesday, federal police conducted an operation to clear lands in Rio Negro province of members of the Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu indigenous community, according to Telam.
Community members had occupied the areas while demonstrating for better treatment of indigenous groups in the country – part of a long-standing Mapuche struggle for recognition of their language and cultural heritage, as well as better economic treatment from the government.
After clashes broke out between security forces and protesters, seven women were arrested, Telam said.
Four were later taken to a prison in Buenos Aires province — about 1,500 kilometers from where they were arrested, the agency said. According to Argentina’s security ministry, they were transferred because the local penitentiary in Rio Negro province operates.
A spokesman for the prison system told CNN on Friday that the four women remain in custody, but did not say if charges have been filed.
In her resignation letter, published by Telam, Gomez said the police’s actions “are incompatible with the values I defend as a political project.”
“Personally, I believe these actions crossed the line and I must therefore step aside so that another person can take on the important responsibility of leading this ministry,” said the letter, cited by Telam.
Public Works Minister Gabriel Katopodis expressed regret at Gomez’s decision to step down, saying the government is “losing a very capable official,” in a statement to Telam.
The Mapuche nation once covered large tracts of land in the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile. Historically, their territory has been shrunk by ranchers and shepherds seeking pastures in the fertile plains of northern Patagonia.